Six years ago, I had to give up coffee (ugh, I know) because I was having terrible acid reflux. After a three-month course of medication to heal my esophagus, my doctor said I could go back to drinking a cup a day. But when I took my first sip of java post-acid reflux flareup, I felt super-nervous and jittery and had painful knots in my stomach. So I said goodbye to coffee and started searching for the best coffee alternatives that would give me a boost of energy without making me feel like I was having a panic attack.
Luckily, I have plenty of options in the form of superfood powders, according to nutrition experts. Here, they share their favorite healthy alternatives to coffee, from maca to matcha.
A Peruvian cruciferous vegetable, maca has incredible health benefits. It not only ups your energy, it also does everything from improve sex drive to alleviate menopause symptoms like hot flashses to decrease PMS symptoms to boost your memory, says Shawna Robins, certified health and wellness coach in California and author of Powerful Sleep: Rest Deeply, Repair Your Brain, and Restore Your Life. One study, published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, shows maca may be able to protect against certain diseases.
There are two types of maca: red and black, each with different nutritional properties, explains Robins, so do your research to find which one is right for you. Anju Mobin, certified nutritionist and managing editor of Best of Nutrition, says that maca contains vitamin C, proteins, and minerals, which is why it’s able to give you a quick boost of energy (and why it has all those other health benefits). Robins adds that raw maca is hard on digestion, so she suggests using it in powdered form.
“I include it in morning smoothies,” says Robins. “It’s a great way to lower caffeine intake but have your brain and body working.”
This type of green tea, beloved in Japan for centuries, is made of camellia plant leaves and is one of the best coffee alternatives out there.
“It helps focus, alertness, and long-lasting energy,” says Mobin. Robins explains that matcha is loaded with polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that protects against cancer. “It also contains L-theanine, a neurotransmitter that helps you feel calm and helps you sleep.” Research also shows matcha may help protect your liver, improve your brain function, and promote heart health.
Robins says matcha is easy to make at home.
“Warm water is all you need,” she says, adding that you can add honey or dates to your cup if you like a little sweetness. If you still need a coffee fix, start with one cup in the A.M., then switch over to matcha.
What about that afternoon buzz you crave? “If you need an afternoon pick-me-up, reach for matcha instead of soda,” suggests Robins.
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that grows in fresh and saltwater. It became famous when it was used by NASA as a dietary supplement for astronauts in space, notes Robins. There’s a good reason why those astronauts took spirulina: It’s full of omega-3 fatty acids, which have proven health benefits including calming anxiety, lowering cholesterol, and fighting inflammation.
Spirulina is chock full of other nutrients as well, like protein B vitamins, copper, and iron. Another nutrient in spirulina, GLA (an omega-6 fatty acid), may boost energy, says Robins. As with maca, you can find spirulina in powder form, meaning it’s a great addition to water, juice, or a smoothie, says Robins.
You may have seen mushroom powder at your local health food store, and there’s a reason why it’s so popular. Mushrooms like reishi, shiitake, turkey tail, and lion’s mane are loaded with essential nutrients like vitamin A, potassium, and fiber and are great for brain health, says Robins.
“Mushrooms are really amazing,” says Robins. “They have antioxidants not found in other foods.”
Reishi mushrooms in particular have some seriously cool superpowers. They actually boost your immune system because they contain chemical compounds called triterpenoids and beta-glucans. One study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, even shows reishi mushrooms may have the ability to lessen fatigue.
“You can add mushroom powder to smoothies, tea, coffee, soup, or rice after it’s done cooking,” says Robins.
Last but not least, my personal favorite: turmeric.
“With antioxidant properties, turmeric is known for plenty of health benefits,” says Mobin. “It reduces the risk of many chronic diseases.” That’s because turmeric is full of curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound. Research in Biogerontology finds turmeric boosts brain health and improves memory, while a study published in Nutrients shows curcumin may prevent fatigue.